Rock

Brandi Carlile's By The Way, I Forgive You Tour is a Salve for 'Toxic Times'

Brandi Carlile
Scott Kowalchyk/CBS via Getty Images

Brandi Carlile on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on March 14, 2018. 

New York’s Beacon Theater is a music box of a venue, its gilt walls and regal ceiling as pleasing to the eye as they are to the ears thanks to exceptional acoustics hewed long before a microphone could vault a voice to the back of the balcony.

Brandi Carlile got that and giddily seized upon the opportunity provided by the Beacon’s filigree frame. On the first of her three-night, sold-out run at the venue Thursday night (April 5), Carlile -- flanked by the Twins, Phil and Tim Hanseroth -- ditched the rest of the band assembled to support them as they tour behind By The Way, I Forgive You, her new album that debuted at No. 1 on the Top Rock Albums chart. The cellists and violinist were relieved, as were the drummer, the French horn player, the man on keys and the Twins’ guitars. Beaming, she stepped to the lip of the stage, and the Twins followed as the lights cut behind them. She shouted that they’d be able to hear her in the highest rows before she picked the first notes of “Cannonball,” and the warmth of their three-part harmony rose as the trio at the center put the music box to work.

Since the late ‘90s, Carlile and the Twins have been making music together thanks to the magnetic pull of this three-part harmony, and they count thousands of acoustic moments like this between them. To say their voices meld as one is a disservice to the balancing act they’ve perfected in the casting of these brief spells: These songs remain the jewels of a set list, now pulling from six albums because they’re three voices distinct with each fry and operatic bellow depending on the verse. Their harder-rocking outbursts are just as beautifully executed as these intimate reveries, but “Cannonball” and “The Eye” off 2015’s Grammy-nominated The Firewatcher’s Daughter served as the magnetic north for the compass of their camaraderie.

New track “Sugartooth” and “The Story” -- her breakthrough 2007 single, the stuff of arena-raising, power ballad dreams -- doubled down on the intensity of the acoustic numbers, with the latter in particular showing Carlile and the Twins at their unbridled best. With tours behind The Firewatcher’s Daughter and now By The Way, I Forgive You drawing thousands to see them, Carlile and the Twins are givers, in that they know exactly which nerve to hit and when. They can turn up for “The Story” and “Mainstream Kid” especially, sure, bouncing off each other with the delight of a teenager who just discovered how much noise a Les Paul can make with enough skill to control the chaos.

But they savor the contrast of a slow-down, and the first night at the Beacon offered several of these, the most poignant of them an ode Carlile wrote for her oldest daughter, Evangeline. Carlile and wife Catherine Shepherd recently welcomed a new baby girl, Elijah, into their happy fold, and “Mother” is a mirthful, timely tribute to Evangeline and “the life-altering tragedy of being a parent.”

“I’ve got a family full of women,” she told the crowd at the Beacon as she eased into “Mother.” “It’s going to get very weird in about 10 years. I love talking about my family as much as I can, especially in this country right now, and I think it’s so important that we’re all reminded that families like mine have a right to exist. We have a right to vote and work and go to church and serve in the military and all those things.”

She followed that up with “The Joke,” By The Way, I Forgive You’s rousing lead single, and further proved that she’s a ready and willing advocate eager to use her platform not only for herself and her family, but any person or community suffering under the disdainful eye of the current administration. After introducing the “an anthem for anyone that needs it” in “toxic times,” Carlile and her band soared through it, meriting an extended round of applause and a sustained standing ovation.

Carlile and the Twins don’t need the gorgeous string section they’ve employed, nor do they need to stray far from the three-part harmony that built their foundation in order to keep things interesting. That’s why their show remains transfixing with no shred of staleness, and no forced trip back to the drawing board for the simple sake of chasing a sound just because it’s new. They get back to magnetic north and proceed accordingly, and if they decide to do so in the company of a few thousand people dumbstruck by the clarity of three voices cutting through a packed theater, we’re all the better for it -- especially in these “toxic times.”